Charlotte’s big transit vote could get pushed to 2022

Charlotte’s big transit vote could get pushed to 2022
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The latest kink in Charlotte’s plan to fund an ambitious transit network is that the proposal might not even make it onto the ballot this year because of census-related delays.

Why it matters: Almost 400,000 people are expected to move here over the next 20 years, so city leaders are pushing for up to $12 billion in new transportation spending, funded in part with a one-cent sales tax increase.

  • A delay in census data means a delay for a vote on the tax increase.

Context: In order to have municipal elections this fall, Charlotte needs certain census data to redraw decade-old district lines, data that won’t be available until September 30, the News & Observer reports.

This fall’s election can’t happen without it, and a sales tax referendum can’t stand alone on a ballot, city attorney Patrick Baker told the city’s Budget and Effectiveness Committee Tuesday.

Charlotte now has two options:

  • Hold the elections this year and face legal challenges to outdated districts.
  • Postpone the elections until 2022.

Between the lines: Postponing city elections to next year would mean that they’d coincide with both county and U.S. Senate races.

  • Anytime you have high-profile contests like Senate races on a ballot, turn out will be higher, UNC Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig tells me.

Every city council member would get another year in office if the city postpones the elections, WSOC reports. The 2022 elections would be for a one-year term.

Zoom out: The city’s new “transformational mobility network” is estimated to cost $8-$12 billion. If approved, half would come from local government via the sales tax increase, the other half from state and federal grants.

Charlotte officials have said that time is of the essence with this proposal. Local governments nationwide will line up for their share of the Biden administration’s proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

  • The city plans to discuss postponing elections on Monday night.

Yes, but: It may prove to be helpful for proponents of the transit tax to push the referendum back a year. One of the big objections to the sales tax now is that it’s unreasonable to raise taxes during a pandemic, and when so many people are out of work.

But next year, “that argument becomes much less potent,” says Heberlig. “Certainly fewer people feeling economic pain would be voting against it for that reason.”

Furthermore, town leaders in the northern part of the county have expressed apprehension about paying for a new light rail they won’t have access to. More time to work with them could also help, some say.

“A lot of people thought we needed to have more conversations and that we needed more buy-in from the towns, which is fair,” Mayor pro-tem Julie Eiselt tells Axios Charlotte.

Go deeper: The transit plan that could shape Charlotte’s future — if we pay for it

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